The season of Advent is almost upon us. Soon the Advent wreath will appear and be lighted prior to the services. In our liturgy, the hymn of praise, the Gloria in Excelsis, will fall silent. The solemn Advent Preface with its commemoration of the Baptist will trumpet forth: "...calling sinners to repentance that they might escape from the wrath to be revealed when He comes again in glory." Our post-communion collect (Lutherans tend to have this as a non-proper) will shift to "O God the Father, the Fountain and Source of all goodness..." Instead of the "ordinary" green, blue or violet will bedeck our altars. All of this reminds us that we are entering a season of penitence, a season of fasting and prayer and almsgiving.
How we need Advent! The collect for the first Sunday shows us why: "that we might be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance." We need Advent because we don't think our sins ARE that threatening or perilous. How wrong we are! Advent is the season when we prepare not merely to welcome the Savior in His incarnation, but when we prepare to welcome the Judge who will return on clouds of light, and to whom all desires are known and from whom no secrets are hid. The only way to meet Him is in penitence and faith, and in Advent the Church seeks to prepare us for this.
Historically, Western Christians observed the Advent fast by restricting themselves to a single meal (not before noon) and a small snack in the evening each Wednesday and each Friday, except on the Fridays also abstaining from flesh meats and such. Additionally, on the three ember days during Advent (this year: Wed, the 17th; Fri, the 19th; and Sat, the 20th) it is traditional to both fast and abstain. Finally, the Vigil of the Nativity, the 24th, was also kept with both fasting and abstinence.
As Lutherans, we are, of course, free to observe these traditional days for the sake of disciplining our flesh (though in the spirit of St. Paul and the Augustana we may wish to dispense with the distinction of meats, but observe in its place a simplified way of eating).
A sidebenefit of going without meals is that it frees up money that can be given to the poor. In a sense, we join in solidarity with the hungry of this world when we fast. We stand with them. You may not think saving $10 a day on Wednesdays and Fridays can make a difference - but it can! There are many places you can direct those funds. LCMS World Relief is always a worthy place to send them, if nothing else presents itself.
Advent is a great time to push back against the busy, crazy schedules that the world would impose on us at this time. If you are using the Treasury of Daily Prayer, it might be a great time to add an office or two to your daily praying. Above all, don't neglect the extra services provided in these days. In our parish, Wednesday night finds us holding a hymn sing and then singing together Evening Prayer. The peace and joy of that liturgy go the very heart of what the Church calls us to enter as we turn from the hectic schedules of our lives and find in the offering of prayer and praise, the singing of hymns, the reading of Scripture and the preaching of the Gospel the refreshment that alone answers our spiritual thirst. Advent reminds us that any other attempt to answer that thirst is doomed to fail.
As the season begins anew, let us welcome it with joy and seek to grow through it in our faith toward God and in burning love for one another!